Daily Archives: September 29, 2009

Life Ascending by Nick Lane

Continuing my foray into scientific book I picked up Life Ascending, which promised to discuss “The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution”. Cool, huh? Well, I supposed it would be if only I could understand what the author is talking about.

It all started very auspiciously because I learned something on the first page of the book, namely that in the early day of our planet¬† a day was only five or six hours long. I suppose I should have figured this out for myself but I was so happy to have learned something so swiftly. Then, I sank. The author’s first nomination for the ten inventions is something miraculous called the Krebs cycle — and I still don’t understand what it is, which is quite pitiful since, apparently,¬† it’s how life started. How about a little diagram perhaps? But I valiantly soldiered on to chapter 2, DNA. Clearly that has to be a great invention. But soon I encountered mysterious chemistry babble such as ” the base pairs really want to bind to each other”. OK, if you say so. Can inanimate objects want anything? And photosynthesis similarly confused me with the Z scheme (despite a diagram, but not an illuminating diagram). Fortunately the chapters became easier and easier to understand, starting with a very lovely diagram of eukaryotic cells.

I guess all my problems lie with chemistry, which is a little less than half of the book…

And two nits: it’s a good idea to get the editor to review (1) the dedication so it actually makes sense and (2) the author’s picture, which I’m sure could be swapped with a better one!

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